Marketing and sustainability: two sides of the same coin

Fred Lemke was recently appointed Professor of Marketing and Sustainability. He joins us from Newcastle University Business School, where he was a full professor, the School Director of Research, and Joint Department Head of the Marketing, Operations and Systems Group. What are his areas of expertise, what brought him to us and what does he hope to achieve?

Fred’s research and teaching interests include consumer behaviour and customer relationship management, sales management and customer interaction skills, supply chain management, reputation risk management and sustainability. It’s a wide and diverse area of expertise, but everything is somehow related, as he explains when commenting on some of the current hot topics and projects he is working on.

Customers value the experience

Customer experience, in both retail and B2B contexts, is one such topical issue. What are the key drivers that shape this experience? What makes a customer experience memorable? “Great products and excellent service are no longer enough”, says Fred. “Consumers have come to expect exceptional experiences. It’s a fascinating evolution as it forces us to consider soft factors as well.”

Customer experience research is closely connected to research into value creation: “This is quite an interesting issue, especially in a B2B setting where you have several different parties working on a project and value is co-created as the project evolves. Who contributes what and when? Who benefits? It’s not always straightforward as a project’s value is not always known from the outset. Sometimes the value only comes about at the very end, after several years, as is the case with construction projects.”

How to manage your reputation in the supply chain

His research also looks into supply chain management. “How do you develop resilient supply chains, i.e. supply chains less vulnerable to disruptions? And linked to that: how do you manage reputation risk on a supply chain level? What are the factors influencing a company’s reputation? Who runs the risk, who manages and controls it?”
And he explains why this is important: “In a supply chain there are spill over effects at every stage, both positive and negative. Companies therefore need tools, early warning systems to detect events that might affect their reputation. Back in the old days certain issues never surfaced or could be ignored. That’s no longer the case. News travels fast nowadays and public perception, and your reputation, can change in the blink of an eye. Mind you, it’s not always bad. Good news also gets picked up and shared quickly.”

From field to fork

From supply chain and reputation risk management to sustainability is not such a big step. After all, sustainability is far more than environmental issues; it’s also about ethics and responsible management. Take transparency and traceability in the food supply chain, for example. It’s not enough to know something is a melon. We want to be able to trace it from field to fork. And Fred has got his work cut out in this area as well: “I’m currently involved in a project funded by the British Council Newton Fund that looks at food safety and how to connect a developing country, in this case Vietnam, to international markets, which is where transparency and traceability come into play. Here, substantial value can be added. Yet, there’s still lots of untapped potential. And then there is this EU-funded Horizon 2020 project focusing on food chains in Europe in which we’ll be investigating the importance attached by consumers to sustainability compared with other factors such as price, availability or delivery time.”

Leave the world a better place

Asked what he hopes to achieve, he replies: “At Vlerick, I’d like to blend sustainability and marketing even more than I’ve done so far. Traditionally, these two disciplines are considered opposite and irreconcilable extremes of the spectrum. Marketing is viewed as trying to sell more of the same products in order to make a profit and boost consumption which, according to some, is at odds with sustainability. But for me, marketing is about adding value to society and I want to infuse marketing with the principles of sustainability in order to serve business and society even better. In the end, I’d like to leave the world a better place.”

An established pioneer

As ambitious as this may sound, Fred is adamant it needn’t be a distant dream. “When you’re working with companies, you can actually make this happen, by trying to do the right thing. In fact that’s one of the reasons for joining Vlerick. I want to identify new talent, help shape the business leaders of tomorrow, teach them the necessary blend of hard and soft skills in order to make a difference. And I believe Vlerick is the right place to achieve that.”

“Many places claim to marry theory and practice, but no School does it quite like Vlerick. Also, it’s well-established, with a great international reputation, yet it has somehow managed to keep its pioneering spirit. This is absolutely fascinating. It strikes you the moment you enter the place. All Vlerick staff, faculty as well as support staff, are extremely motivated and energetic. They’re dedicated to doing the best possible job.”

We don’t do average

He goes on: “For me, working at Vlerick is not just a job, it’s part of my life. My motto is to always give my best. Don’t do average. And my colleagues at Vlerick don’t do average either. They all want to make a difference.”

He’s brimming with enthusiasm and energy as he concludes: “I feel privileged to be part of this distinguished community and I’m very much looking forward to our journey together.”


  • Full Professor, Joint Department Head, School Director of Research at Newcastle University Business School, UK (2013-2017
  • Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor at the Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde, UK (2011-2013)
  • Assistant Professor at the Alliant International University, School of Management, USA (2009-2011)
  • Senior Research Fellow at Henley Business School, UK (2005-2010)
  • Senior Research Fellow at Cranfield School of Management, UK (2005-2009)
  • Assistant Professor at Stuttgart Institute of Management and Technology, Germany (2003-2004)
  • Ph.D. in customer relationship marketing at Cranfield School of Management, UK  (2003)
  • Senior Research Fellow at Cranfield School of Management, UK (1998-2002) 

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