Ahead of the midterms this November, a coalition of companies — including Patagonia, Wal-Mart, Lyft, and others — is banding together to encourage employees to get out and vote.

The campaign, called Time To Vote, urges businesses to offer paid time off or 'meeting-free' work days to allow employees to get to the ballot box on Election Day, and to provide information about absentee ballots and early voting.

Nancy Koehn, historian at the Harvard Business School, says she sees the move as part of a larger trend: businesses entering the political fray.

"[Businesses] are moving further and further along the spectrum from the bystander role that business has generally assumed vis-a-vis the political arena, to public actor," Koehn said.

"Here's the latest step along that journey," she continued. "They're vocal, and they're serious, and it's not partisan in the case of these efforts to bring out the vote."

What's behind the shift? Koehn's theory is that consumers are increasingly looking to the political and ethical implications of their purchases, and companies are noticing.

"You have a consuming body politic out there — particularly young people, but increasingly people of different age groups and demographic groups and income classes — who now are thinking about consumption as a way of exercising social and political opinion and priorities," Koehn said.

That's particularly true about 'Generation Z,' the demographic group made up of people born in the mid-to-late 1990s or the early 2000s, Koehn continued.

"What we are learning about the newest generation of young active information-hungry consumers, which we are now calling Generation Z...is they care very much about the stand of companies on social and political issues, particularly how they see the purpose of their business in relation to the burning issues of the day," she said.