Computer industry giant IBM is giving its data center customers a chance to cash in on energy-reduction efforts that extend beyond a cheaper electric bill at the end of each month.

Big Blue (NYSE:IBM) said Friday it was starting a certificate program to dole out energy-efficiency credits to prove a company's green consciousness or be traded on a burgeoning new market for cash.

As part of the program, IBM has teamed up with Neuwing Energy Ventures, which will document and verify a customer's energy savings garnered from IBM's data center evaluation services.

The undertaking also highlights the amount of energy-efficient initiatives that have recently been announced.

For example, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Thursday his foundation will work with Wal-Mart to drive down the costs of energy-efficient and clean-energy technologies.

But data center owners have been feeling their own unique pressure to adopt energy-saving technologies as a way stop a resource crisis, like running out of space or power (see Data Centers Could Hit 'Resource Crisis').

These centralized repositories suck down 1.5 percent of the United States' total electricity consumption. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates data centers, along with servers, will double their energy appetite to 100 billion kilowatt-hours by 2012.

But at least in the initial phase, "We anticipate most clients we work with are going to elect to keep their certificates," said Rich Lechner, IBM's vice president of IT Optimization.

Increasingly companies want to prove they are good corporate citizens by reducing their global footprint, he said.

To get the credits, Neuwing will determine the initial energy draw from the data center or IT equipment. The company will then do a second review after energy reduction steps, like deploying energy-saving software and hardware, are made.

Neuwing will finally issue customers an "IBM Energy Efficiency Certificate" for the total megawatt-hours of energy no longer needed.

For its efforts, Neuwing gets a portion of each customer's certificates, or charges a fee based on the amount of megawatt-per-hour saved.

IBM of course deploys its consulting services, which no doubt tries to convince companies to buy its energy saving technologies.

IBM will kick off the program in November.

A Burgeoning Credit Market

Currently three states, Connecticut, Nevada and Pennsylvania, require energy-efficiency credits as part of a mandated portfolio.

The value of each credit is regulated by the state. But for example, Connecticut has a floor price of $10 per megawatt-hour, saved annually and a ceiling of $31, Lechner said.

Nine other states, including California and Texas, have goals, not mandates, that include the credits, said Mel Jones, CEO of Sterling Planet, which sells carbon offsets, renewable energy credits and energy-efficiency credits.

Jones said this is the first move he's seen by the computer industry to participate in the energy-efficiency credit market. And the fact that it's being initiated by Big Blue, "it moves the whole market forward," he said.

This will also lead to additional credibility for the carbon-trading market expected to come to the U.S. in the next few years (see Carbon Offset Market Heats Up By 3Degrees), he said, as the credits will be traded as an "indirect-carbon emission."

But for now, more immediate hurdles face the energy-efficiency credit market.

Among them, Jones said, is making sure participating industries standardize the way energy efficiency is measured.