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Geoff Green leads Arctic expeditions with an environmental message

Geoff Green, founder of Students on Ice Expeditions.

The Transformational Canadians program celebrates 25 living citizens who have made a difference by immeasurably improving the lives of others. Readers were invited to nominate Canadians who fit this description. Over several weeks, a panel of six judges will select 25 Transformational Canadians from among the nominees.

Nominations remain open until November 26. Submit yours today.

Geoff Green, environmental educator, has been selected as one of 25 Transformational Canadians.

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In 1999, renowned explorer Geoff Green was five years into a busy career leading scientists, adventurers, film crews and other parties on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Far north and south, he kept noticing that the journey moved and transformed even the most jaded adults.

"Something about the Arctic and the Antarctic was genuinely changing their perspective and making them look at the planet differently - and inspiring and motivating them," Mr. Green remembers. "And I just thought, 'Imagine if we could give that experience to kids from the beginning of their lives, and how that might define their futures.'"

So Mr. Green founded Students on Ice Expeditions - a Gatineau, Quebec-based organization that has taken some 1,500 students from 40 countries to the top and bottom of the world. On these educational adventures, SOI brings along a coterie of top scientists, including representatives from the Canadian Museum of Nature and the federal government's Canadian Polar Commission.

One of SOI's goals is to leave students with a lifelong connection to nature, says Mr. Green, whose environmental work with youth won him a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the United States in 2005. "Giving them that understanding of and respect for the environment is one thing I think they all walk away with," he adds. "And a bigger global perspective - they come back with a greater understanding of issues like climate change and biodiversity."

Mr. Green, 44, has an easygoing manner that belies his grit and determination. He's drummed up impressive support for SOI, which enjoys charitable status in Canada and the U.S. Monaco and Norway are among the nations that provide scholarships, and one American philanthropist has sponsored more than 70 underprivileged children from New York City. Corporate allies include German water-filter maker Brita, Ontario-based First Air - and Mr. Green's longtime mentor Marc Tellier, president and CEO of Yellow Pages Group.

Born and raised in Southern Ontario, Mr. Green has led 77 Arctic and 33 Antarctic expeditions, and explored everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Patagonia. For a spell in his 20s, he was an elementary-school teacher - a job that taught him he loved working with kids but didn't fancy the classroom setting. After joining a trek to Ellesmere Island in 1993, Mr. Green found himself in demand as a polar expedition leader for the likes of the Discovery Channel, the Smithsonian Institution and the World Wildlife Fund.

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Also a sought-after public speaker, Mr. Green is bursting with big plans and ideas. He wants to designate Antarctica the first carbon-neutral continent, and he's pushing for a national education strategy that will make the Arctic part of the school curriculum. Along those lines, Mr. Green works closely with indigenous communities in the North. On SOI's latest Arctic journey this August, 25 of the 80 kids were Northern Aboriginal students.

Exhorting his charges to remain optimistic, Mr. Green tells them the story of dogged British explorer Ernest Shackleton. The veteran sailor - who has retraced Mr. Shackleton's 1914¬ expedition to Antarctica six times - says the lesson is that anything is possible. "In this day and age, in some ways what our society needs is a little bit more Shackleton spirit."

Stewardship of the polar regions is as much about sovereignty and prudent economic development as it is about climate change, Mr. Green observes. Still, that summer expedition marked the first time he couldn't find any sea ice to show the children. "It's never been more important that we expose our young leaders to these issues, and make them real and make them personal," he says. "And help make sure that we've got those leaders in place for the future, because in the next few decades, those changes are only going to accelerate."

A few years ago, Mr. Green's students created the concept of Generation G, whose letter stands for qualities ranging from generosity to good global citizenship. Finding the way forward to a clean-energy tomorrow and other worthy outcomes means making those things part of our belief system, he argues.

"It's got to be people - not just our governments, but individuals doing more," Mr. Green says. "We're capable of so much more, and these kids show us that every time. Every expedition, they give cause for hope."

Geoff Green on leadership

Two of the keys to any successful expedition - and I tell people this the first day - are good karma and flexibility. Flexibility is the key. Because no matter what we plan, it's going to change - whether it's ice conditions or weather or whatever, or a pod of orca whales surfacing portside....I used to joke about it and say, 'Come on, I need some good karma.' But over almost 20 years of leading these things, I've seen unbelievable things happen that you cannot explain any other way, except that this group of people - somehow all thinking positively and being on the same page - has made things happen.

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