Whether a firm undertakes corporate responsibility (CR) activities for strategic or altruistic reasons, it is important to understand the relationship between such activities and economic performance. CR activities may be distinguished based on which combination of three possible outputs – learning, reputation and CR outcomes – they produce. This distinction matters not only for the ultimate environmental and social sustainability but also for the relationship between CR activities and economic performance. Taking advantage of this distinction, an integrative synthesis of knowledge of the relationship between CR activities and economic performance can be developed that presents the relationship in terms of a dynamic, case‐specific, inverted U‐shaped efficiency frontier and the vertical distance from this frontier. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.