Contributing to a Plant-Based and Climate-Friendly World
Jane Patterson and Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, who are parents of Northeastern student Orlando Cossia Castiglioni, E’23, mechanical engineering, have combined their professions in design and business with their passion for animal welfare and an animal-free food supply. Their recent gift to the College of Engineering will help establish two co-op positions in the Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education focused on plant-based and climate-friendly food systems. We spoke to them about the Plant Shift Initiative and their hope that their gift will inspire innovative solutions to a critical issue facing our planet.
Can you briefly describe the Plant Shift Initiative?
The goal of the Plant Shift Initiative is to nurture tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and leaders through the development of projects that tackle animal welfare and climate change issues with creative “plant-based” ideas. By plant-based, we mean all ingredients, products, technologies, and materials that remove animals from the food system and from all other productions and activities. We hope that the initiative will awaken students, faculty, and administrators to the enormous opportunity and long-term benefits of an ethical, plant-based approach to the world’s greatest challenges.
Meat production is the direct leading cause of global deforestation. Industrial fishing has brought the majority of sea species to the brink of extinction, while over 50 percent of plastic in the ocean is abandoned fishing gear. Antibiotic resistance is possibly the greatest danger humanity will face in the future because of animal factory farming. The intrinsic inefficiencies of the animal-based food system are deep and unresolvable. The quickest and most efficient way to curb climate change—which also brings the added benefits of reducing animal cruelty and being beneficial for human health—is the shift to a plant-based diet.
As an example, the development of alternative proteins (‘alt proteins’)— although already advanced—is an entire field where more innovation, creativity, and technical solutions will further facilitate the replacement of animal products with excellent alternatives. Engineering is essential to making progress in this exciting space. A Plant Shift Initiative at a leading university like Northeastern could be a model that sparks breakthroughs and inspires others to follow suit.
What inspired you to provide this gift to the university?
We admire the team spirit, maturity, and kindness that distinguishes Northeastern students. They are constantly giving to each other—giving their time, their help, their ideas, and their resources. This ‘giving’ ethos was the main inspiration for our gift. We hope to positively impact the lives of exceptional human beings, while championing an effort that is essential for the future of the planet.
Why is the Plant Shift Initiative important to you and your family?
As animal advocates, environmentalists, and disruptive entrepreneurs, we see the urgency to prepare students to lead the world they are inheriting in the right direction. Finding people to hire who are aligned to, or even aware of, the plant-based way of thinking remains a challenge, despite the fact that this is a booming industry in need of young minds and new ideas. The obvious solution is to support academia to help fill this gap. Graduates with a deeply rooted plant-based outlook are highly sought after in a wide array of professions today. This trend is only going to grow, as plant-based and climate-friendly solutions race to the forefront of innovation in food, materials, energy and all other human activities.
What do you hope to achieve through your gift to Northeastern?
The Plant Shift Initiative fund has the potential to help stimulate new ideas and directions and improve one’s experience at Northeastern. The university could start developing game-changing ingredients or technologies. Certainly, any project that leads a student to discoveries, crafting a thought-inspiring documentary, launching a start-up, aspiring to an altruistic political career, striving to reduce animal cruelty, helping curb climate change, or developing a groundbreaking scientific study, would have great positive impact and benefits that cannot yet be measured.
To further engage the Northeastern community, we plan to launch a speaker series on a variety of topics, such as how plant-based strategies for nature conservation, energy, transportation, agriculture, entrepreneurship, design, business, and food tech can benefit climate correction. Events can be found at alumni.northeastern.edu/events.