2013. Vol.4, No.7A2, 105-109
Published Online July 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.47A2012
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 105
The Goggles Project: Using Street Theatre to Engage University
Stakeholders in Discussions about Sustainability
Tarah Wright1*, Gary Markle2, P et er Wuench3
1Environmental S c i en c e , Faculty of Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada
2Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Ha l if a x , Canada
3Breakhouse Inc. , Halifax, Canada
Received May 15th, 2013; revised June 15th, 2013; accepted June 22nd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Tarah Wright et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Sustainable development has become a global priority. While a sustainable future cannot be achieved
through changes and actions in one sector alone, education is a key component in working toward this
goal. Universities in particular have a moral task as leaders in the ESD movement, and are important
catalysts for moving towards a sustainable future. However, research shows that there is a general lack of
engagement in, and knowledge of sustainability within the university community at large. This manu-
script describes the Goggles Project which used street theatre as a creative way to engage the whole uni-
versity community in discussions regarding sustainability and the role universities can and/or should play
in achieving a sustainable future.
Keywords: Sustainability in Higher Education; Sustainable Development; Street Theatre; Education for
Over the past few decades, humanity has become more aware
of the growing number of environmental problems that threaten
human and ecosystem health. The ramifications of environ-
mental degradation have led many governments and interna-
tional agencies to highlight the need for human development to
be based on principles of sustainable development (SD). The
World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)
defines SD as “meeting the needs of the present without com-
promising the ability of future generations to meet their own
needs” (WCED, 1987: p. 43). The main tenets of sustainable
development are focuses on integrating ecological, economic
and social considerations into decision making; inter-genera-
tional equity; increasing equity within nations and amongst
developed and developing countries (intra-generational equity);
reducing population growth; and, conserving and enhancing the
While a sustainable future ca nnot be achieved through changes
and actions in one sector alone, education is a key component
in working toward this goal ((Bachiorri & Puglisi, 2007; Cor-
tese, 2003; Orr, 1992; UNESCO, 2005). The concept of educa-
tion for sustainable development (ESD) asserts a vision of edu-
cation that empowers people to assume responsibility for creat-
ing sustainable societies. ESD has become so important to the
global sustainability movement that the United Nations de-
clared 2005-2014 the United Nations Decade of Education for
Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2002).
Universities in particular have a moral task as leaders in the
ESD movement, and are important catalysts for moving to-
wards a sustainable future (Orr, 1992; UNESCO-UNEP, 1978).
Clugston (1999) explains that universities are vested by society
with the task of discerning truth, imparting values, and social-
izing students to contribute to social progress and the advance-
ment of knowledge. Higher education has a responsibility to
impart the moral vision and technical knowledge needed to
ensure a high quality of life for future generations. According
to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Or-
ganization, “the goal of (higher) education is to make people
wiser, more knowledgeable, better informed, ethical, responsi-
ble, critical and capable of continuing to learn. Education, in
short, is humanity’s best hope and most effective means in the
quest to achieve sustainable development” (UNESCO, 1997).
The desire to consider sustainability within the university has
been translated into a number of initiatives. Several emerging
themes demonstrate how universities frame the central task of
becoming leaders in sustainable development, and include: en-
gagement in environmental literacy initiatives; curriculum de-
velopment; research related to sustainability; partnerships with
government, non-governmental organizations and industry in
developing sustainability initiatives; and, “greening” physical
operations (Wright, 2004).
Although several advances have been made in SHE research,
major university stakeholders have remained largely absent in
discussions regarding the role universities can play in creating
sustainable societies (Wright, 2010). This is a major issue, as
research shows that all university stakeholders (administrators,
students, staff, and faculty) must be engaged in discussions in
T. WRIGHT ET AL.
order to ensure the long-term success of sustainability initia-
tives (Filho, 2005; Newman & Abrams, 2005).
Scholarly research shows that outreach can be a major vector
in creating change (Filho, 2000; Oepen, 2000) and an often
neglected factor in social learning and change processes (Or-
netzeder & Rohracher, 2005). Much of the literature contends
that engaging with key stakeholder groups in developing a vi-
sion for change is paramount to ensuring that change efforts
within the institution bear fruit (de la Harpe & Thomas, 2009;
Kezar & Eckle, 2002; Kezar, 2009; Wals & Jickling, 2002).
McMillin & Dyball (2009) posit that all university stakeholders
must be engaged in discussions of sustainability for it to be
realized at an institution. Filho (2005) states that to be success-
ful, the sustainability in higher education movement must en-
gage in stakeholder discussions and the integration of the whole
university community into decision-making and communica-
tion (Filho, 2005). Finally, Wright (2010) argues that there is a
general lack of engagement in, and knowledge of sustainability
within the university community at large—which in turn can hin-
der progress to developing sustainability initiatives on campus.
But how can we best engage university stakeholders in dia-
logue about sustainability in higher education? How can we
reach those who are not already involved with sustainability
initiatives on campus (i.e. reach beyond “the choir”)? The Gog-
gles Project that we describe below was designed to engage the
whole university community in discussions regarding the role
universities can and/or should play in achieving a sustainable
future in a creativ e wa y.
The Genesis of the Goggles Project
The story of the Goggles Project begins at a party, where a
couple of friends from different academic backgrounds and
employment experiences (i.e. science, architecture, and fashion
design), but with a shared vision for a sustainable future, were
discussing how to provoke sustainability discussions and en-
gage the entire university community in thinking about the role
that higher education could play in the sustainability movement.
Many ideas were thrown around, including holding focus
groups on campuses and sustainability lecture tours, but none
felt like they could reach out far enough amongst the various
stakeholders within the institution. It was further determined
that these ideas were relatively boring, and would not serve to
inspire any excitement amongst stakeholders who are not cur-
rently involved in sustainability on campus.
Sustainability problems are complex, and while traditional
delivery methods (lectures, public talks, etc.) serve to inform
individuals, they have been criticized in the past for failing to
promote a full understanding or appreciation of sustainability
issues as a whole:
No amount of preaching to the citizenry about the perils
of a polluted environment, the dangers of irresponsible
disposal of wastes or deforestation and the benefit to
mankind [sic] of greening the environment will make
people act to seek to forestall environmental degradation
unless they are imbued with a deep concern for the com-
mon good, a sense of responsibility for maintaining a
balanced and healthy ecosystem and a strong drive to
achieve harmony with nature (Clover, Follen, & Hall,
The friends realized that a conceptual platform to engage
higher education stakeholders in conversations about sustain-
ability in a creative, fun, and resonating way (like a good con-
versation at a great party), was exactly what was needed. Thus
the Goggles Project was born-predicated on the assertion that
engaging people in discussions of sustainable development
requires a different approach.
Sponsored by a generous grant from the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada, the friends gathered a
team of creative thinkers to develop the idea further. The team
met and discussed many ideas to “interrupt” people’s lives on
campus and find creative ways to get them talking about sus-
tainability. The use of street theatre was seen as an excellent
way to reach those who might not necessarily be reached by
traditional academic offerings such as a focus group or lecture
The choice of street theatre as a medium was informed by a
growing body of literature that demonstrates the benefits of
using the arts in engaging people in thinking about and action
for a sustainable future. Cohen-Cruz (2001) demonstrates the
efficacy of street theatre in the past to discuss major social is-
sues, and argues that street theatre has the ability to help push
new questions onto the political agenda. Packalen (2009)
claims that the arts can inspire empathy, evoke emotion and
spark dialogue. For Packalen, the arts can examine the world
critically and provide insights to better understand the problems
we face and to build sustainable solutions. Further, Nadarajah
and Yamamoto (2007) discuss the power of theatre in terms of
building a culture around sustainability. In addition, Österlind
(2008), and Sullivan et al. (2008), demonstrate through case
studies, the benefits of using interactive theatre as a method to
bring about social change. In particular, Sullivan and Lloyd
(2006) found that interactive theatre was particularly beneficial
in addressing community environmental issues in contrast to
using traditional approaches.
The vision of the Goggles Project Inaugural Tour was to in-
spire all university stakeholders to think about how universities
can contribute to a sustainable future. The goals included:
Explaining in plai n l a n g u a ge what sustainability means
Conveying the urgency of sustainability in a way that does
not depress people
Creating dialogue amongst all stakeholders in the university
about higher education and sustainability
To reach out to individuals on campus who may have never
thought of sustainability and/or ESD in the past.
Street theatre was purposefully chosen for this project in or-
der to achieve these goals. By performing on high foot traffic
areas on campus, it was anticipated that the troupe would be
able to bring their message and provoke discussions with stu-
dents, faculty, staff and administrators from all facets of the
Goggles Project—The Inaugural Tour
The first Goggles Project Tour took place over a three-week
period at the beginning of the academic school year (Septem-
ber-October). A troupe of four professional actors and a han-
dler/communication expert travelled from Halifax to Vancouver
by train, visiting nineteen university campuses and performing
at least 4 street theatre events a day to a total audience of over
1000 people. After receiving location advice from sustainability
campus contacts across the country, the troupe performed on
university greens, the steps of administrative buildings, in pe-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
T. WRIGHT ET AL.
destrian walkways, cafeterias, and residences halls (we even
performed in a loading zone once and nearly got run over).
The troupe engaged the audience in a thought-provoking way,
asking them to rethink their understandings of sustainability
and suggest solutions for the campus that go beyond reduce,
reuse and recycle. The 15 - 20 minute street show introduced
the playful and funny troupe of eccentric thinkers from the
fictional Rethink University, as they delivered a lecture for a
first-year undergraduate class called Rethink 101 (Figure 1).
The show included an interactive quiz with the audience, stories
of how Re-Think University came to be, descriptions of new
ways seeing higher education’s role in sustainability (with the
use of goggles that help us see more clearly), and a sustainabil-
ity pledge and rap! The troupe engaged their audiences, asking
them to consider how universities may have contributed to
unsustainable behaviour in the past, examine new ways of
thinking about higher education for the future, and develop new
perspectives on the foundations and purpose of the university
given our desire for a healthy, prosperous and sustainable
The messages and facts that the Goggles troupe shared with
their audiences were a reminder of the challenges humanity and
the planet face. However, the goal was not to focus on grim
predictions for the future or on difficulties that may lie ahead.
Rather, it was to encourage university stakeholders to refocus.
The show therefore focused on being entertaining as well as
information. The use of homemade goggles was particularly
effective for injecting humour into the show. Whenever in the
performance the troupe had a moment of clarity about sustain-
ability, they put on goggles (made from recycled water bottles)
to symbolize a transformation in their thinking (Figure 2). Au-
dience members were also encouraged to wear the goggles, and
were given cards that promoted the project and gave instruc-
tions for people make their own goggles.
At the end of the show, audience members were encouraged
to talk to the troupe and record videos to document their own
goggles moments (instances where they realized that something
related to sustainability on campus must change), and/or to
offer their thoughts on what universities could and/or should be
doing to become leaders in creating a sustainable future (Fig-
ure 3). The videos were uploaded on the gogglesproject.org
website so that viewers could see what university stakeholders
across the country think about the university and sustainability.
Lessons Learned—The Hits and Misses!
The Goggles Project, although informed by scholarly re-
search and experience, was a grand experiment. While there
were many things that we did right, there are also things that we
would do differently next time. The following section reflects
on some of the “hits” and “misses” of the Goggles Project Tour,
and discusses possible avenues to follow for subsequent itera-
tions of the project.
First, and foremost, our experiences add to the literature that
discusses the efficacy of using theatre as a medium to engage
people in thinking about important societal issues (Cohen-Cruz,
2001; Nadarajah & Yamamoto, 2007; Österlind, 2008; Sullivan
et al., 2006; Sullivan & Lloyd, 2006). Not only did people stop
to be part of the audience, many individuals stayed around after
the performance to talk with the troupe about their ideas on
sustainability and the university. Many of the audience mem-
bers said how much they appreciated the opportunity to reflect
The goggles project troupe.
The nutty professor has a “goggles” moment
during Re-Think 101 le ct ure.
Students at Ryerson University have their say on the goggles’ website.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 107
T. WRIGHT ET AL.
on an issue that they were not often exposed to. As one student
“I am writing to say thank you for coming to our univer-
sity and catching people as they bustled by. It is so easy
for us to live in a bubble of oblivion-especially in a uni-
versity setting. It seems almost contradictory, that in an
institution teaching critical thinking, we become so ab-
sorbed in the day-to-day that we lose our perspective on
the wider world. Thank you for making us question the
way universities operate and for encouraging us to think
about ways to change our institutions and the way we are
educated.” (Rosalind Crump, Mount Allison University)
In addition, we learned that the delivery of heavy material
(i.e. climate change, poverty, an war) can benefit from a light
treatment in order to engage and not scare people away. The
troupe found that being silly (i.e. physical comedy, rapping
using humorous lyrics, etc.) during the show relaxed people and
encouraged them into creative thinking.
We also found that the use of goggles made from recycled
pop bottles throughout the performance and after the show was
useful in engaging the audience. Not only were the goggles
used as a metaphor for seeing differently, the physical presence
of the goggles, and encouraging the audience to wear the gog-
gles was brilliant way to put people at ease in order to generate
innovative ideas. Anecdotally, the troupe found that when they
asked an audience member to give their ideas on how the uni-
versity could be more sustainable, their ideas were much more
creative (i.e. have a herd of goats cut the lawns on campus) if
they were asked to wear the goggles in responding, then if they
did not (i.e. offer more courses related to the environment).
The same was true after the show when audience members
were invited to give their own thoughts and ideas to be posted
on the website. The troupe found that many of the audience
members wanted to talk, and the website became full of inno-
vative ideas and creative solutions that are currently not present
in the literature (see www.googlesproject.org to view a selec-
tion of the videos from our first tour).
The team also admits to some “misses” along the way. First,
we observed that people are afraid of being the first person to
stop to watch a street performance. While we did our best to
pre-advertise performances with sustainability groups on each
university campus via social media (primarily via Twitter and
Facebook), there were occasions where there was no pre-audi-
ence waiting for the show to happen and it was very difficult to
get people to stop and watch even in heavily travelled areas. On
the other hand, when we had a small crowd of people gathered
before a show, people were more likely to stop and watch.
Therefore, any future iteration of Goggles street theatre will
attempt to maximize pre-audience size even if it means putting
“ringers” in the audience.
Second, while the Goggles Project Tour was an attempt to
reach stakeholders throughout the university, we found that the
majority of our audiences were made up of students. While
Students are an essential component of sustainability in higher
education (Kagawa, 2007).), research shows that all stake-
holders need to be involved in discussions and actions toward
becoming models of sustainability (Filho, 2000; Keniry, 1995).
Therefore future iterations of the Goggles Project will likely
include guerrilla and disruptive theatre (i.e. the troupe breaking
in on faculty meetings, administrative offices, etc.) to ensure
that all stakeholders are reached.
Universities have the potential to become leaders in devel-
oping a sustainable future. The literature shows that becoming
leaders in the sustainability movement requires both an aware-
ness of sustainability amongst all stakeholders on campus, and
openness to positive cultural change for sustainability in higher
The Goggles Project adds to the emerging body of literature
that demonstrates the benefit of using creative acts in aiding in
a cultural transformation within higher education toward sus-
tainability. Further, the Goggles Project contributes to the sus-
tainability in higher education literature by identifying concep-
tualizations of various campus stakeholders on the role that the
university can play in creating a sustainable future.
It is our sincere hope that our manuscript offers guidance and
inspiration to others wishing to engage in creative acts on
campus in their own attempts to create positive cultural change
for sustainability on their campus. Stay tuned for Goggles Pro-
ject Take Two!
The Goggles Project was supported by a Research Dis-
semination grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities
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