Morality, ethics, environmental consideration, and other purpose-driven themes have been taught in business school and publicly embraced by corporations for decades. But I believe that not until recently have these conscience-based motivations really mattered in the decision-making process of most consumers. Such drivers were "nice-to-haves" but not required of the companies we purchased our goods and services from.
For my generation (Generation Y), and increasingly for the global society as a whole, the conscience is really becoming an important factor for all consumer-based decisions. This can be seen in hundreds of examples and is manifested as a need for both individually and environmentally-positive products. For example, Whole Foods, which sells organic groceries, has manged to thrive during the recession. Car companies such as Nissan have invested time and money into costly development and rollout of electric vehicles, placing a bet on this trend. And even the old utility companies now realize the benefits of a real conscience-centric strategy.
There are numerous reasons for this massive and significant trend: the growing publicity and actually tangible repercussions of global warming, the proliferation of personal fitness and health-food information, and most importantly the fact the Generation Y is the first generation to have these ideas reinforced during our entire formal schooling process - from First Grade through College and beyond.