Whether purchasing recycled paper and plastic, eliminating toxic chemicals from products, or setting goals to reduce carbon emissions, a growing number of global brands have upped their games to meet the standards of environmental watchdogs and conscious consumers, as well as the social media armies that stand behind them.

But rather than regard such "do good" efforts for the planet as added costs, savvy companies view them as essential ingredients for long-term growth, as they can feed directly into a purpose-led business strategy.

Consider IKEA: Through an integrated sustainability strategy described as "people and planet positive," the Swedish home furnishings company has a goal to be a "circular business" by 2030, and to regenerate more than it consumes while completely weaning itself off virgin fossil materials and fuels. IKEA aims to power its business with 100 percent renewable energy and acquire all of its wood from sustainable sources by 2020.

"It's easy to build the case that purpose and sustainability help create business success," says Claudia Willvonseder, former CMO and now VP at the IKEA Group. "Not only millennials, but consumers in all generations want to buy products that are produced in a way that strives not to harm the planet. It has a big impact on sales and pays out in the short-term, but also helps the mid- and long-term sustainability of the business."