This paper investigates the linkage between China's output growth and its pollution emissions. We find that growth of total factor productivity in the Chinese provinces over the period of 1997–2011 was accompanied by increasing pollution emissions. Our study shows that over this period, a significant part of China's output growth previously attributed to total factor productivity growth is actually due to increasing environmental inputs. On the basis of the general ideas of the green Solow model and our empirical analyses, long-run green sustainable growth in China would be unachievable under current conditions of pollution abatement efforts. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.