The design of sustainable wireless sensor networks (WSNs) is a very challenging issue. On the one hand, energyconstrained sensors are expected to run autonomously for long periods. However, it may be cost-prohibitive to replace exhausted batteries or even impossible in hostile environments. On the other hand, unlike other networks, WSNs are designed for specific applications which range from small-size healthcare surveillance systems to large-scale environmental monitoring. Thus, any WSN deployment has to satisfy a set of requirements that differs from one application to another. In this context, a host of research work has been conducted in order to propose a wide range of solutions to the energysaving problem. This research covers several areas going from physical layer optimization to network layer solutions. Therefore, it is not easy for the WSN designer to select the efficient solutions that should be considered in the design of application-specific WSN architecture.We present a top-down survey of the trade-offs between application requirements and lifetime extension that arise when designing wireless sensor networks. We first identify the main categories of applications and their specific requirements. Then we present a new classification of energy-conservation schemes found in the recent literature, followed by a systematic discussion as to how these schemes conflict with the specific requirements. Finally, we survey the techniques applied in WSNs to achieve trade-off between multiple requirements, such as multi-objective optimisation.