Innovation driven green development has become the key to realizing the transformation and upgrading of pollution-intensive industries and the improvement of economic quality and efficiency in the new era. Based on the identification of pollution-intensive industries, this study evaluated the green innovation performance of Chinese pollution-intensive industry from 2014 to 2018 from two dimensions of transformation efficiency (static) and productivity (dynamic) using the SBM-Undesirable model and the Malmquist–Luenberger productivity index. The results found that: First, there is still a potential for 21.7% improvement in the transformation efficiency of green innovation in pollution-intensive industries, the productivity is increasing and presents a dynamic evolution characteristic of “Λ” shape and industry heterogeneity exists in both the transformation efficiency and productivity. Second, if energy conservation and pollution emissions reduction are not considered, the transformation efficiency of green innovation will be underestimated by 6.3 percentage points and the productivity overestimated by 1.3 percentage points. Finally, pollution-intensive industries can improve green innovation performance from three paths: Unilateral, stepping and jumping. Based on the research conclusions, to better promote the green transformation of Chinese pollution-intensive industries, we recommend increased investment in scientific research to promote the application and promotion of green technologies; strengthen the level of supervision and management to flexibly make use of environmental regulations; and change the concept of policy implementation to explore the diversity and complementarity of green innovation policies.
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