In the last decade, the responsibilities on organisations and business practitioners have grown exponentially.

Stemming from the ethical dilemmas that lead into today’s economic crises, expectations of business, and their executive leadership, is at an all time high.

Expectations of business leaders go well beyond their fiduciary duties. The public’s awareness of environmental issues and how unsustainable societies have become a driving force for influencing businesses to be more responsible for, not only, their own impact upon the natural environment, but for also assuming greater responsibility for society.

The umbrella term that I use is ‘sustainability marketing’ and when seeing the world from marketing as well as the sustainability perspective, managing business relationships and interacting with modern-day consumers is a challenge.

Clearly, it is the exploration and understanding of the marketing-sustainability-borderline that excites me the most. Whether it is participating in an environmentally concerned community, getting engaged with a citywide recycling project, or interacting with a charity to save an endangered species, the responsibilities with respect to the natural environment and business stakeholders become clearer the more my research has evolved.

I conduct sustainability research with colleagues internationally and the confusion in the business world is reflected in a controversial interpretation of the term. What are the key aspects of it? How, when, and to what extend do these factors influence consumer decision-making? When working with companies in these areas, it becomes evident to me that this topic carries great importance in modern society. Yet, many businesses fail to adopt a market perspective in developing sustainable products and services. This is a dilemma that I often notice. By contrast, leading companies drive their innovation processes from the market, and sustainability is the path to engage with the consumer today, and in the future. Putting this another way – understanding what ‘sustainability’ entails represents critical insight that may decide between business success today and tomorrow.

I am organising the International Colloquium on Relationship Marketing (ICRM) and we will host the event in September 2014 at Newcastle University Business School. This is a well-established event that attracts the attention of academics and practitioners worldwide (http://www.icrm2014.com). This year, we will discuss social media and sustainability against a relationship marketing background. This is an exciting outlook. But this should not be surprising, given that Newcastle University Business School is an exciting place to be.

Professor Fred Lemke is a Professor of Marketing and Sustainability at Newcastle University Business School. His research interests are a blend of marketing, sustainability and innovation in an international arena – specific areas are: customer experience, value co-creation, sustainable market offerings, and green design.